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MIM’s ushers proud of what they do

John Hart For George Marks and his daughter, Laurel, and Cathy Collings and her son, Graham, ushering is a family matter.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

If not for the setting, they could be stewards on a doomed flight, effortlessly handing out flashlights, lighting candles, and directing you to a seat.

But this isn’t a plane, and the people doing these chores have their feet firmly planted on the ground.

“One of our main functions is to see that people are safe and secure,” said Susan Costello, a volunteer usher for Music In the Mountains, the nonprofit arts group that stages productions throughout the year at the Nevada County Fairgrounds.



Costello leads a group of almost 200 ushers who work on a rotating basis to help set up and navigate concert goers to their chairs.

Once the lights go down, Costello and her charges provide everything from directions to a restroom, to tips on how to best view the show, to a cough drop or after-dinner mint to a guest who requires extra attention.




It might sound like an insignificant job to most – silently gesturing to the correct seat, pointing a finger in the direction of a restroom, or leading a patron to an open parking space – but to these music lovers, it’s a job with serious customer-service overtones.

“I think it’s a thrilling experience,” said usher Nancy Minett of Grass Valley. “Everyone who does this job is very committed.”

“I think the operative word is pride, that we take pride in what we do,” said fellow usher Carolyn Gutendorf of Penn Valley.

A handful of ushers interviewed at the Music in the Mountains’ office in Nevada City all professed a singular love for music and the arts. And that’s why the job is done.

George Marks and his daughter, Laurel, 12, have been ushers for years. Marks was a season ticket holder at both San Francisco and Oakland symphonies before moving to the foothills.

“There was a definite loss when we moved up here until we discovered Music in the Mountains,” he said. “Now, we’re volunteering like mad.”

Though all volunteers get in for free, it’s certainly not the easiest job.

“You have to have really comfortable shoes,” Laurel Marks remarked.

Still, there are waiting lists just to help volunteer for the six-hour shifts, Costello admits.

“It’s hard when you have some really popular concerts. We’ve had to use a lottery system sometimes because so many people want to work.”

Paul Perry, MIM musical director, said the ushers are part of a vital network that includes volunteer bartenders and set-up crews.

“There’s no way we could afford to do what we do without them,” Of the 300-member Allegro Alliance of volunteers, Perry said,

“When you’re a classical-music devotee, we ought to make the music as close to a San Francisco experience as possible. You better believe the volunteers are a big part of that.”


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